Trail Etiquette Tips to Know: How to Be a Responsible Adventurer

Madalyne Loree
6 min readJul 25, 2023


Heading outside on foot, bike or horse is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to explore this beautiful planet that we all call home. While I am all for getting people outside, the increase in usage can oftentimes have some unexpected negative effects. Most notably, environmental degradation, littering and contamination of water, and harm to wildlife.

So how do you balance out the desire to explore and adventure with the impacts of said exploring and adventuring? Well, to start, you can focus on being a more responsible hiker and following “standard” trail etiquette rules.

This includes such things as abiding by all Leave No Trace Principles, keeping wildlife wild, and doing your part to leave the trail and the natural landscape better than when you found it.

Learn how to be a more responsible adventurer with the help of these 7 trail etiquette tips that all adventurers need to know.


1 | Know the Right Right of Way

This is an especially important trail etiquette to know when you are planning to explore a busier trail. For the most part, the right of way goes like this: bikers yield to hikers and stock/horses, hikers yield to stock/horses and stock/horses yield to no one (this is mostly because they are bigger and can be easily spooked).

Once you come across another party and need to step to the side of the trail (either as a hiker or while on a bike) it is best to come to a complete stop. This is especially true when dealing with stock and horses as you can easily scare them, which can be dangerous for all parties involved.

When stepping to the side of the trail, always make sure to keep an eye out for fragile vegetation (like flowers) and any possible dangers — like cliffs, pokey bushes, and wildlife.

2 | Uphill Travelers Get the Right of Way

This is especially true for hikers. When traveling on a trail and you are going downhill, always try to move aside and allow anyone coming up to go past you.

Obviously, sometimes it does make more sense for uphill travelers to move out of the way, but this is more of a case-by-case thing. I would say that the best way to go about this is to plan to step aside if you are going downhill and then if the uphill party gives you a signal that you can pass (they step aside, wave you on, whatever) then you can proceed to pass them.

💬INSIDER TIP: if you are hiking on a popular or relatively well-known biking trail, always pay attention to the trail ahead of you when going uphill in case a biker comes speeding past you downhill.

3 | ALWAYS Stay on the Trail

This is a key part of keeping the landscape in good shape so that everyone can use it for years to come. No matter what the trail looks like or whether it may appear that there is a better option, never stray from the established trail.

Don’t bushwhack, don’t cut switchbacks. Always stick to the established trail… even if it is longer.

Similarly, always be mindful of trail conditions. If a trail is too wet and/or muddy, turn around and plan to do the hike/ride another day. Exploring a muddy trail can be dangerous and damaging — to you, the trail itself, and the whole ecosystem around it.

4 | Announce Yourself on the Trail

When coming up from behind someone or a group of people, always let them know that you are there in a calm manner so as not to frighten them. Then ask politely if you can pass. If you are the one being passed, step to the side of the trail (safely) and wait until the full party has passed you before moving on.

If you are looking to pass a group of horses, then definitely make sure to let them know quickly that you are there so as not to spook the animals. This is especially true if you are coming up from behind. Likewise, it is somewhat common for bikers to let you know how many people are in their group and how many are behind them when they pass (try to do the same thing if/when you are on a bike).

Finally, when you pass other parties on the trail, always try to give a brief nod or a friendly hello (being nice is always nice).

❔GOOD TO KNOW: making your presence known while out on the trail isn’t just good trail etiquette, it is also safer — especially if you are out in known bear country. Read more about the top safety tips for hiking and backpacking in bear country here.

5 | Never Disturb Wildlife

While this definitely pertains to the bigger mammals you might encounter while out on the trail (elk, moose, and bear) it is also equally important to not disturb smaller wildlife like birds, squirrels, and chipmunks — no matter how “friendly” they may look.

The main points to remember with this trail etiquette tip are to always keep a safe distance between you and the animal (especially if it is one of those bigger ones), stay calm and quiet once they do see you, and never (ever) feed them (or run away from them). Really just focus on disturbing the wildlife as little as possible and keeping them “wild.”

When out hiking and adventuring, remember that you are in their home — so make sure to always treat them, and it, with respect.

6 | Let Nature Be Your Noise

Please, please, please for the love of all things holy, leave that speaker at home. If you really want/need to listen to music while out hiking then always use headphones. People often head outdoors to disconnect and listen to the natural sounds (i.e. birds, rivers, the wind in the trees), so the sound of your music blasting out of a speaker while you hike by really ruins it for everyone (including the wildlife).

7 | Always Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Be smart. It is kind of that simple. If something looks dangerous, then you should probably stay a safe distance away. That bear in the meadow — yeah he’s a large predator who can outrun and outfight you. That cliff edge that drops down into the raging water — yeah rockslides and slips happen.

Always pay attention to what is around you and think intelligently about what can and cannot happen. Being smart will not only keep you safe but will also protect other adventurers and any wildlife that may be nearby — not to mention the natural environment around you.

Following proper trail etiquette is a key part of being a responsible adventurer, along with other key things like not littering and not harming wildlife. Whether you are hiking, backpacking, trail running, or biking, it is important to know what “rules” are followed in order to keep you, your fellow adventurers, and all wildlife happy and safe (not to mention keeping the natural environment happy too).

If you have any questions or comments about these 7 Trail Etiquette Tips, or anything else about being a more responsible adventurer, then please feel free to leave them below or reach out directly.



Madalyne Loree

Solo female adventurer creating in-depth travel guides to inspire you to have your own grand, sustainable adventures.